I just read Zach Nielsen’s article, “Leaders Are Encouragers,” and was really challenged. It appears I have a twin living in Madison. Zach writes,

“Apparently I can be intimidating. At least that’s what people have told me in the past. My engine runs at high RPMs, and I tend to be on the type A side of the personality spectrum. I approach most issues in a black-and-white fashion and pursue excellence. Most leaders probably exhibit similar characteristics. This is why you are a leader. People want to follow because you are confident, strong, and know what you want and how to get it. But these characteristics can ruin your people (and you) if you are not careful.”

I have been told these exact same things… a lot. And these are all areas I’m really consciously trying to work on and through. God, help me. But there is a really frustrating tension that is at work here. You see, my understanding of excellence and church growth and reaching people leads me to believe that things should be done with a high level of competence. For example, I really work hard to make sure that our church’s building is clean, orderly, and that people have a good first impression.

And so some consider me a “chair Nazi” or they are convinced that I have OCD. Well, neither are true. Sure, I’ll laugh with you and pretend that you are hilarious about this, but at the end of the day, those chairs are getting straightened, the tables will be wiped off, and the various decorations will be straightened. And to be honest, I don’t understand why you don’t care about that! Don’t you realize that people form first impressions based entirely off of what they see? Yes, I know that God looks at the heart, but people aren’t always as mature as that, so why not build a bridge by taking a few minutes and cleaning? Is it really that obsessive to take excellence seriously?

No, I don’t think it is. But here’s the problem: in our pursuit of excellence, leaders don’t always interact with people in a way that motivates them to excel; rather, we do the exact opposite. As Zach writes,

“Leaders can give you a list of ways you can improve. They know the areas that need adjustment, correction, or improvement. This is a necessary ability in leading anything well. They will not long tolerate the status quo, or the organization becomes stagnant, and we all know what happens to water when it remains stagnant. It starts to stink.”

Yep, it’s easy to point out the speck in other people’s eyes while ignoring the log in your own, right? Well, that’s not exactly it. It’s not that leaders aren’t painfully aware of their own sin, at least not all of them. And leaders who appear to be intimidating don’t necessarily believe they are unapproachable! Nor do they want to be!

The problem is that we are wired for growth. We desire to grow so that we can help others grow. But sometimes we don’t understand the best way to help you grow. Really, we mean well. We just forget that not everyone is like us in how they “operate” and we sometimes overlook the fact that people need encouragement! They need to be lovingly challenged in ways that encourage (motivate?) people to “press on,” so to speak.

Zach gives three practical actions to put into practice:

  • When you walk into a room with your spouse, your kids, or those under your care at church—really, any leadership setting—try and make a disciple out of speaking words of encouragement in short bursts of improvised blessing. Just make a habit out of it. Make the first thing that comes out of your mouth a simple word of encouragement.
  • Many years ago at a conference, I remember Bill Hybels saying that every day when he came into the office he would start the day by writing out five hand-written notes of encouragement to five of the hundreds of people who were under his pastoral authority. This stuck with me for a reason. It’s powerful.
  • Have parties with your people. And when you do, make a habit of publicly blessing those under your care with words of life in the presence of all those gathered. This will set an amazing tone for the whole group and the person being recognized will be immensely blessed.

I like this advice. I am going to begin working even harder on this…

On a somewhat related note, I reviewed Practicing Affirmation (Sam Crabtree) awhile ago and that book has actually done a lot to help me in this area. If you need some direction, pick it up!

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